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Are viruses the biological equivalent of dark matter?

Did you get the flu? I was so lucky, I got it twice! So lots of stuff about influenza in the news. Other than that, how could you ever get excited about it?


Influenza is a virus. Everyone knows that too. Nothing exciting there either, right?


But what if there were many more of the little critters than we had imagined? What if they were literally everywhere? That would be scary right since that represents uncountable numbers of dangerous organism we never even heard about before.


So here’s the scoop. “Trillions Upon Trillions of Viruses Fall From the Sky Each Day”. It turns out that in fact there’s more viruses than anything else on Earth. Now that might not be so scary since they are all so small. But what if they are really an invisible presence that could that is literally everywhere there’s air, and even where’s there’s not, like in the oceans?


How about an invisible mist or cloud that penetrates everywhere on Earth, and every location no matter how small, unseen, In other words, where we humans just see nothing, the viruses are there all right, in invisible clouds, right in front of our eyes.


Viruses are the most abundant biological forms on Earth. But there’s an irony. If you put them all together in one place, they would fill about 10 oil drums, according to one estimate. That just shows how small they are. But they’re powerful. Every day in the oceans one in five living cells is killed by a virus.


But there’s more to it than that. Only some viruses kill you. Many of them do nice things to you to help you live. Others do the same for other animals and organisms. They play a vital part in evolution. Actually they probably do a ton of things we don’t even know about yet. You usually only discover these things if you kill a virus and then see what happens later.


The new buzzword is the virosphere. The virosphere is everywhere, like the atmosphere but it has a thicker layer in the atmosphere below airplane height but above weather systems. The virosphere means that viruses are constantly being blown all over the world. So the flu you just got could well have come from China or Uzbekistan. Either way, it gives a new meaning to the thought that you caught the flu at work.


So here’s what I’m thinking. You’ve probably heard about visible matter. It seems that only about 5% of the mass in the universe is visible to us. The rest is dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter comprises around 27% of the universe’s mass and dark energy around 68% (with a recent caveat that there might be some parts of the universe lacking dark matter, for reasons of course we don’t know).


In other words, we are tragically blinded by our senses; we see only around 5% of what is actually out there. So that means we don’t see about 95% of what’s going out there, which puts a massive limit on our current understanding of the universe.


We don’t even know what dark matter is, as well as not being able to see it. One idea is something called neutralinos. Another is sterile neutrinos (don’t ask).  But for now they’re just a shot in the dark (so to speak).


Doesn’t that remind you of the virosphere? Except that we know a lot more about viruses. Except actually we don’t. We know about a few common viruses, like flu and other common diseases. But the vast majority we know nothing about. Most of the virosphere is biological dark matter. We can’t see it, we don’t know what it’s made of yet it’s constantly all around us.


So why does this matter? Well for starters we’re breathing in millions of viruses here as we speak. What are they doing to us? Of course we have no idea.


And there’s viruses throughout our food. Is that what’s actually causing the epidemic of obesity? Or cancer? We don’t know.


Evolution is supposed to be all about natural selection. Is it possible that viruses drive this process, or maybe impede it? Same.


Could the viruses be from outer space? Maybe messages from aliens? Ditto.


And so on. The virosphere is actually terra incognita; another realm we have just found about but don’t know where it is. It’s America before Christopher Columbus (well kind of since he wasn’t the first).


It’s nice to know that there are still some mysteries out there for us yet to solve, since we now know just about everything else because of Google, AI and TED talks.








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